Fay’s piece re Fire. Was this what really happened? Also uses another trigger to tell a story form a minor player’s point of view.
A WAYWARD SPARK?
‘But, Mr Farriner, sir, it weren’t me… it were you, sir. You said you’d check it. You said, go to bed Katie, I’ll see to the oven. So that’s what I did, sir.’
Thomas Farriner wiped his brow and spread ash and muck over his harrowed face. Flames were licking up the wall but at least his wife and children were safe. ‘Katie, did Nell get out like I telled ‘er?’
Kate the young scullery maid was watching the flames spread across the narrow laneway to the chophouse opposite.
‘No Mr Farriner, sir, she didn’t. She were afeared of the height and wun’t jump. I kep tellin’ ‘er, sir. She just stood at yon winder screamin’ and then she stopped. It were ‘orrible, sir. She just stopped.’
They heard a loud crash and fearful wailing as the roof of the chophouse suddenly collapsed and horrid, malicious, blood red flames went raging onwards. It had been a dry autumn. Strong easterlies with their own agenda and momentum only added to the dangerous mix. Several warehouses containing pitch, tar and cordage helped fuel the fire and soon the whole of Pudding Lane was alight.
Thomas Farriner couldn’t believe the devastation and speed of the conflagration that was playing out before his eyes. Had it been his fault? Was he truly to blame for this?
Sam Barker, publican of The Baker’s Arms said that the Lord Mayor, Sir Thomas Bludworth had been informed but had said the fire was insignificant and went back to bed. What folly was this because if firefighters had been mobilised then, at 2.00 am, the fire might have been contained. Creating back-breaks by pulling down buildings the fire’s path was the usual method, but now it was too late.
By 4.30 am, 300 houses had already gone and the waterside was thronged with people endeavouring to save themselves and at least some of their meagre belongings. It was chaos. The choking heat, the unmistakable stench of death and the din of terrified people screaming amid the infernal background noise of hungry, crackling, rushing flames, coalesced into something like hell.
‘I ‘eared that the Lord Mayor was asked to order fire-breaks and all he said was, but who’ll pay for the rebuildin? So a government man called Pepys went directly to the King at Whitehall who issued instructions to spare no ‘ouses but to pull down everything in the fire’s way.’
Sam Barker might have been a hopeless gossip, but he always knew what was going on.
Action was now finally being taken but the blaze just continued, up Fish Street Hill, along Canning Street, Gracechurch Street, Lombard Street, Cornhill and Fenchurch Street and as darkness fell, there seemed to be no way of stopping it.
Across the river people watched in bewilderment as St Paul’s Cathedral, illuminated from inside with flames against the darkened sky, while the Tower Of London stood nearby, unscathed. Suddenly, a collective cry of anguish and disbelief went through the crowd as the roof of St Paul’s cascaded down in a torrent of molten lead. St Paul’s Cathedral, with it’s perfect symmetry, the epitome of the stonemason’s art, was reduced to a hideous facsimile of the original. It soon became apparent that the reason The Tower remained untouched was entirely due to the razing of every house that stood nearby.
On King Charles’s orders the same action was taken to stop the blaze reaching the Inner Temple area and he and his brother James were now in charge or operations. They worked amongst the flames in bucket chains and even rewarded the men’s efforts, directly, from bags of guineas hanging at their belts.
By September 6th, 89 churches, including St Paul’s, had gone, 13.200 and almost half of the area inside the city walls was destroyed. 100.000 Londoners were homeless and camping on Moorfields, but Charles chose to ride among them to try and dispel rumours that were spreading, like flames, that the Dutch or the Jesuits had deliberately started the fire.
The king’s baker, Thomas Farriner of Pudding Lane was plagued with doubt as he surveyed the desolate expanse before him, marked only by odd heaps of blackened stone. Maybe I’m not wholly to blame, he reasoned. Maybe it was the Lord Mayor’s fault or…fate, and if no-one finds out…it might all just go away. But on September 10th, a broadsheet was published by an observer, the diarist John Evelyn, who lived 6 miles from the city in the country village of Kensington.
‘You would have thought for 5 days that it had been Doomsday from the fire, the cries and howling of the people. My gardens were covered with ashes of paper, linens and plasterwork blown there by the tempest and I cannot help but wonder if someone is currently wrestling with their conscience.’
‘Well it ain’t me, muvver, ‘onest it ain’t.’ Kate Warner sobbed as she tried to read the broadsheet aloud. ‘Mr Farriner telled me to go to bed and ee’d see to the oven. He kep’ sayin’ it were me to blame but it weren’t. An’ it weren’t Nell neiver. Nell weren’t just an ‘ousekeeper she were loverly. She allus made sure I ‘ad plenty of food…an’…I miss ‘er.’
Mrs Warner had listened intently and when her daughter finally stopped sobbing and went to sleep, she crept slowly away from Moorfields. Kensington couldn’t be too far away, could it?